Going into the 2018 season, the Colorado football team has plenty of unknowns on its defensive line and in the secondary.
In both areas of the defense, the Buffaloes will be relying on players that have yet to step on field for CU.
At inside linebacker, however, the Buffs are loaded with experience.
Leading up to fall camp, which begins Aug. 1, BuffZone.com is previewing each position group for the Buffs. In this installment, we take a look at the inside linebackers, which feature a mix of experienced veterans and talented young players.
Led by senior returning starters Rick Gamboa and Drew Lewis, the Buffs are solid in the middle of the defense going into the season.
"I feel better (about that group)," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Last year, Rick was the only one that had played. This year we're going to have three guys that have played, so I feel better about it for sure."
Gamboa and Lewis combined for 236 tackles last season. They also combined for 1,668 snaps, putting them on the field for 94.2 percent of CU's defensive plays.
Linebackers coach Ross Els would like to change that this year to take some pressure off of his seniors.
"I'd love to be able to play four guys," Els said in the spring, "and right now we feel we can do that."
While Gamboa and Lewis have played well, the emergence of Nate Landman last season and Akil Jones this spring is going to help this group be better as a whole.
Landman got progressively better in practice last season. After playing sparingly in the first 10 games, he record nine tackles in 59 snaps during the final two games and has displayed exceptional ability to find the ball and make plays.
"I really like those guys," Eliot said of the trio that played last season. "They all have different talents. Rick is the leader and the most consistent. Drew is the most athletic and then Nate has really good instincts and makes a lot of plays off that. I'm excited about those guys."
Eliot and the Buffs are also excited about Jones, who played just 22 snaps last year before dealing with a sports hernia late in the year. After recovering in the winter, he was named the team's most improved inside linebacker this spring.
Redshirt freshman Jonathan Van Diest adds some depth, as well, if he's healthy. The former Cherry Creek High School star tore the ACL in his left knee last November. That put him behind the others as he sat out of spring practice, but he's got great potential to succeed.
"I think he's going to be a heck of a football player for us," Els said. "I'm really excited to see what he can do, hopefully pretty soon."
Position: Inside linebacker
Returners (2017 statistics)
Rick Gamboa, Sr., 6-0, 230 (117 tackles, 10 third-down stops, 5 QB pressures)
Akil Jones, So., 6-0, 230 (5 tackles)
Nate Landman, So., 6-3, 235 (17 tackles, 4 TFL, 8 third-down stops)
Drew Lewis, Sr., 6-2, 225 (119 tackles, 2 sacks, 8 third-down stops, 8 QB pressures)
Jacob Stoltenberg, So., 6-0, 240 (walk-on)
Jonathan Van Diest, Fr., 6-1, 230 (redshirt freshman)
Clyde Moore, Fr., 6-0, 230 (true freshman)
Colby Keiter, F., 6-1, 225 (walk-on)
Devin Lynch, Fr., 6-1, 210 (walk-on)
Jake Yurachek, Fr., 6-1, 235 (walk-on)
Trent Headley (graduated, walk-on)
Bryan Meek (graduated, walk-on)
2017 recap: As juniors, Rick Gamboa and Drew Lewis formed a talented and mostly reliable duo in the middle of the defense. Lewis led the team with 119 tackles and added a pair of sacks. He also was CU's most consistent player on defense in terms of putting pressure on the quarterback with blitzes up the middle. Gamboa had a career-high 117 tackles and led the team with 10 third-down stops. It was the first time since 2006 (Jordon Dizon and Thaddaeus Washington) that two Buffs recorded over 100 tackles. True freshman Nate Landman came on late in the year and provided a spark off the bench, with 17 tackles (4 for loss) in 79 snaps played. Akil Jones played 22 snaps.
2018 outlook: Once again, Gamboa and Lewis are expected to be in the starting lineup, and plenty is expected of them to show improvement and provide leadership. Both have shown up on preseason all-Pac-12 lists and they will be counted on to be two of the top players on the defense. Landman has tremendous potential and is likely to see the field quite a bit. He proved his ability to make plays against the run last season, and if he can be better in pass coverage, he'll give the Buffs another great option in the middle. Jones was named the team's most improved inside linebacker during the spring and he'll push for more playing time this fall, as well. Redshirt freshman Jonathan Van Diest will aim to get in the mix this fall, as well, after spending the offseason recovering from a torn ACL. True freshman Clyde Moore played just three games as a high school senior because of injury and is likely to redshirt, but the Buffs like his potential, as well.